Sakura Con Day 1

Well Day 1 is in the books and now it is Day 2. We get to finally see the Ali Project performance, and if it is anything as good as what we saw at the Opening Ceremony, then it should be good. The Ceremony kicked off with last year’s convention chair trying in vain to do a job as an MC and did quite a good job despite a few order changes that came up on the fly. They wheeled out the Congressman for the area and also a member of the Japanese Consulate who came equipped with a Doraemon mask.

Doraemon has recently been named a Japanese Cultural Ambassador, as Japan seeks to capitalize on not only its cool factor of late tied to its animation and manga, but also project a cute and cuddly face to the world. It is also interesting to see animation made by private companies being used by the government to convey foreign policy messages abroad. Imagine if Mickey Mouse was named by George Bush as an Ambassador, or Casey and Finnegan were sent off on a world tour of good will by Harper. Bill C-10 hardly comes to mind when you think of this sort of thing taking place in North America.

Nevertheless, dignitaries aside, each of the major guests were given a quick intro and received rapturous applause by the crowd. Some like Ali Project, were brought on stage to be introduced. Ali Project came out flanked by six foot tall drag queens in flowing robes and platform shoes. Definitely the sort of thing I was hoping for from the orchestral pop duo with delightfully macabre lyrics. They have also done some of my favourite anime opening theme tunes, so I hoping to hear them soon in a couple of hours actually. EXCITEMENT!

Although the real excitement came later as I had a chance to sit down with Roland Kelts and discuss his new revised and expanded paperback edition of the book he published in 2006 called “Japanamerica.” In the book he seeks to answer the question why Japan and why now in terms of its animation suddenly becoming “cool” over here in North America. He and I talked about how cyberpunk and the few shows that did trickle over during the 1970s and early 1980s built up to the explosion of interest in North America for what has been produced in Japan on the cheap for the past 50 years in its current modern form. However, despite this explosion of interest that has seen convention attendance sky rocket, internet buzz explode, and Hollywood clamouring for titles to adapt, anime DVD sales have plummeted creating what Roland Kelts described in his panel as a “crisis.” It was an interesting theme given that the first slide of the first media panel I intended that was put up on a screen was “Don’t Panic.” This of course was from the wonderful Hitchiker’s through the anime universe known as Funimation. Funimation of course is doing just swimmingly thanks to shrewd title acquisitions and a willingness to embrace digital distribution and form and this does not just mean Itunes. Kelts however underlined that there is a real problem with this in Japan as most of the companies still operate under old dinosaur like figures, who don’t even use email let alone read contracts for the distribution of their shows. Added to this is the problem that most animation studios are run down little hovels paying their workers nothing for long ridiculous hours on shows that will only be sold to tv stations for the equivalent of $3 000 US, a price that has not changed since Osamu Tezuka was selling Astro Boy to Japanese television. He even then was accused of dumping his shows for cheap in order to gain wide exposure, but also push out the competition. In other words DVD sales remian crucial to any of the small time slave driven workers to receive any sort of royalties, if at all. Kelts described though at how the generation gap in terms of digital distribution and change in general has been so crippling that it endangers the industry at as a whole. Added to this of course is the North American Industry that is also seeing DVD sales plummet and demands undergoing a huge change. Fans now want box sets and little delay over when and where they get their shows instead of the 8-12 month wait that usually accompanies a show’s release in Japan to when it comes out in North America. However, with the fear of cheaper North American DVDs being sold and Japan, coupled with the resistance and unwillingness to change has resulted in the crisis that Kelts discussed.

I also sat and chatted with Roland Kelts about the interesting cultural exchanges that are going in terms of the creation of what has been described as “New Manga.” He pointed out that this is not just unique to English speaking fans, as the entire world seems interested in producing its own manga. We discussed also how anime itself was rooted in Tezuka’s love of Bambi, but also how things like cosplay was an American invention in Star Trek conventions and how it is now been adopted by anime fans on both sides of the Pacific and through out the world. So there is a lot of cross pollination going on. Nevertheless, when I questioned him about genre and the reverse racism that seems to be going on with foreign audiences insistence on real anime by real Japanese people, there is still the creation of wonderful new hybrids and explorations of using the artform, and manga in particular, that have come out. “Bizenghast,” by Marty Le Grow, being one of them that is released by Tokyopop. He pointed out that in the end it really does not matter what kind of genre you want to call it, and whatever the so-called purists say, what really matters is stuff that is worth reading, worth watching, and worth enjoying.

After that wonderful discussion and the purchase of Roland Kelts book to take home and peruse, I sat down and talked with Lillian Dee of Tokyopop. I mentioned to her how it was interesting to see that of the five people that comprised her panel, four of them were women. She explained that the manga industry, and especially Tokyopop, is largely driven in terms of its sales by teenage girls, and how this is a huge departure from the traditional 30 to 40 year old male super hero comic buyer. She explained how things like yaoi and boys love, but also shoujo comics and other manga that go beyond portraying women as marrying material have engaged female audiences in North America. I asked her in particular why yaoi and boys love was in particular had been seeing such wide popularity compared to shoujo ai titles featuring lesbian relationships. She answered that there really was no competition from other media. Lesbian styled pornography for men is already in abundance, where smut for women is not as prevelant. Yaoi really gives women the chance to enjoy their porn, but it also creatively explores and questions gender itself, which also a recurring theme in shoujo manga as well. I then asked her favourites and she mentioned a lot of titles I like, for instance Monster, which is fantastic, but for yaoi she mentioned “Loveless” a title she has been working on and has thoroughly enjoyed.

All in all it was a great day except for some issues with a bad microphone that has robbed me of some great interviews, but nevertheless, it was great to sit and chat with some people and really discuss some of the interesting parts of what I really enjoy about anime and manga. Now onto Day 2!